Special judge accepts candidacy lawsuit, grants Oct. 2 extension

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Bartholomew County Election Board Vice Chairman Mark Kevitt, left, and Chairman James Holland listen to Bartholomew County Democratic Party Chairman Ross Thomas during a hearing challenging Republican Joseph Jay Foyst’s candidacy for Columbus City Council District 6 in the Bartholomew County Clerk’s Office at the Bartholomew County Courthouse in Columbus, Ind., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. Thomas’s challenge asserted that the Bartholomew County Republican Party had not filed the paperwork for Foyst’s candidacy on time. The board upheld the challenge and Foyst will be removed from the ballot.

A judge from Franklin has agreed to preside over a lawsuit regarding a Columbus City Council candidate’s eligibility and has granted an extension for the defendants to respond to the complaint.

According to a recent filing, Franklin City Court Judge K. Mark Loyd has accepted the case, following a request from both the plaintiff and defendants for him to assume jurisdiction. Bartholomew Circuit Judge Kelly Benjamin has recused herself from the case, citing a conflict of interest.

Ross Thomas, chair of the Bartholomew County Democratic Party, is suing Republican District 6 candidate Joseph Jay Foyst and the Bartholomew County Election Board in an effort to remove Foyst from the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

Foyst and the election board filed separate motions requesting that their deadline to answer Thomas’s complaint be extended from Sept. 26 to Oct. 10 — less than a week before early in-person voting begins on Oct. 16.

Loyd, however, has issued orders extending both parties’ deadlines to Oct. 2.

Thomas said in a previous interview that he was disappointed by the election board’s request for an extension, which he filed an objection to.

“If Mr. Foyst was not a valid candidate, he’s never going to be a valid candidate,” he said. “… Their delay tactics won’t work.”

After no Republican candidate filed to run in the May primary for the new council District 6, the party held a caucus in July and chose to nominate Foyst.

Thomas filed his first challenge against Foyst on July 26, arguing that his candidacy was invalid because the Republican party had failed to file its notice for the July caucus with the clerk’s office by the required deadline.

While the election board upheld this challenge, there is a section of Indiana Code that allowed the GOP to fill the subsequent vacancy within 30 days, Bartholomew County Circuit Court Clerk Shari Lentz said in a previous interview.

The Bartholomew County Republican Party held another caucus for District 6 on Aug. 29, and Foyst was once again selected to fill the vacancy.

Thomas again attempted to challenge Foyst’s candidacy, arguing that Foyst and Republicans lacked authority in law to remedy his earlier removal from the ballot. After Lentz did not accept his filing, he filed the lawsuit.

In addition to Foyst, Thomas named all three members of the election board in his suit, stating that he did so because their presence was necessary to issue the relief sought.

The board has decided to retain Columbus attorney Peter King as its counsel in this matter, and Foyst has hired Franklin attorney George “Jay” Hoffman, III.

The pending legal fight over Foyst’s candidacy could determine which party wins the new District 6 council seat. Should Thomas’ lawsuit prevail, Democratic nominee, Bryan Munoz, would run unopposed in the general election.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and the deadline for voter registration is Oct. 10. Early in-person voting will begin on Oct. 16.